Sunday, 11 January 2015

Prêt a Mang ... Er?

Last summer Pret launched the 'Mexican Guacamole', made with a gluten-free wrap. It carried a disclaimer: "While the ingredients of this product are gluten-free, it has been made in our kitchens which are not gluten-free environments". Blogger Kevin at Gluten Free by the Sea queried their head office about it, was given basic explanation of hygiene / cross-contamination controls and told: "We can't call it gluten-free because of the risk of cross-contamination".

The Mexican Guacamole wrap appears lately to have been supplanted by a Chicken Harissa, also made with a gluten-free wrap (which I understand is Newburn Bakehouse by Warburton's, incidentally) but the Pret line on it is just the same, as they confirmed in an email to Kevin last month. His full account is worth a look. Read it here.

What can I Eat? is the title of Pret's Allergen Guide. Each page is headed up "I Can't Eat [Allergen] So I Can Eat" - under which all the food and drink options Pret offer made without that allergen are itemised. But between the list and the header comes a red-inked kicker. On the gluten page, that disclaimer reads: "The ingredients in these products do not contain gluten. Although we take every reasonable precaution we cannot guarantee that the products will be 100% gluten free as we use gluten ingredients in our kitchens"

It is the Allergen Guide which I was eventually shown in my local branch when I asked to be told which allergens were included in their sandwiches and salads - but the Guide does not show 'contains' information on the 14 allergens. Instead, it gives 'free from' information, and advisory allergen information ...

Pret's social media operators have been fielding queries on all these issues for months, not always consistently or correctly.

For instance, although they claim they can't call their made-on-site products gluten-free, they regularly describe them so on social media, often linking to their allergen guide.

Sometimes they call their Chicken Harissa 'gluten free' - and sometimes they say it's made with a 'gluten free' wrap.

When consumers ask them whether products are 'gluten free' - as all the ones below did - they often tell them yes - and then follow with a disclaimer.

Mind Your Language
So much is wrong with the language Pret are using, it is difficult to know where to start.

The message 'made in kitchens which are not gluten-free environments' is in my view fairly useless. Not many kitchens are 'gluten-free environments', and yet gluten-free meals can sometimes come out of them - although Pret seem to feel this is not presently possible in their case.

Or perhaps I should say 'guaranteeable', rather than 'possible', because Pret seem obsessed with guarantees. Yet this expression is also inappropriate in food allergen contexts, to my mind, because there are no guarantees in life, as Kinnerton, producers of nut-free chocolate, clearly argue on their site. To me, it is a matter of confidence: does Pret have enough confidence, with the correct training and controls in place, and the willingness to put their neck on the line, and make a gluten-free claim? No, is the present answer.

Or is it 'yes'? Because they appear to be making those claims in conversation, and they also seem to be relaxed about allowing consumers to infer a product does carry a gluten-free claim when it may not. Take a look at the picture of the original Mexican Guacamole on Kevin's blog. Nice large green lettering for the 'gluten free'. Much smaller disclaimer. Lunchtime ... distracted by colleagues ... dozens of hungry office workers ... in a hurry .... can you be certain you'd check, or is it easy to miss? And, for that matter, would those with all other sensitivities be able to ascertain the 14 allergens info too?

What does gluten free mean, Pret?
I am not confident 'gluten free' is fully understood chez Pret. They told me days ago that "we only label products gluten free when we can guarantee [ARGH!] that they don't contain gluten".

Newsflash, Pret: gluten free products can contain gluten. They can contain up to 20 parts per million. And "... don't contain gluten" implies zero gluten - which is neither expected nor achievable nor measurable. Their constant references to '100% gluten free'  - or to not being 'completely free from', as on their Chicken Harissa page - or of their inability to 'guarantee 100%' tells me that they just, do, not, get it.

I have blogged before about why '100% gluten free' is misleading and - on labelling - illegal, and "We can't guarantee 100% gluten free" is a car crash of a statement in a document purporting to serve as an 'Allergen Guide'. Titling a page "I can't Eat Gluten So I can Eat" and also making a gluten-related disclaimer appears to be a contradiction of one's own choice of heading - and shows ignorance of coeliac disease. For it is coeliacs who are the ones who really "can't eat gluten" (in concentrations greater than 20ppm), and it is they who need 'gluten free' labelling in the absence of gluten-related disclaimers.

What should Pret do?
The term they are looking for - desperately - to describe the products under discussion here is "no gluten containing ingredients". Why is this not being used?

They should stop using the expression 'gluten free' with respect to these products unless there's a 'not' before it. They should stop referring to gluten content, stop referencing percentages. And they should stop declaring themselves unable to guarantee the unguaranteeable.

When asked whether such products are gluten free they should say no, not yes. They should then say they are NGCI, and if they wish, explain cross-contamination protocols.

14-allergen information should I feel be more accessible - I was unable to confirm that it's available anywhere other than online. An appreciation that the cereals containing gluten are the allergens - and should be named - seems absent and needs to be addressed.

Their advisory / defensive warning must change. Again, talks of 'guarantee' and '100%' should be abandoned. The correct expression is for Pret to work out - they clearly need advice, and I understand they're getting it from Coeliac UK - but it should be factual not speculative. "Although we take every reasonable precaution, please be aware that we use gluten-containing ingredients in our kitchens" is not ideal, but better than what they have.

They need to appreciate that they are currently, in effect, making a broad "may contain allergens" declaration (albeit in an arguably cack-handed way) on all their on-site foods - as the 'can't guarantee that any of our products are completely free from any allergen' disclaimer on their web pages demonstrates. As you can see below, the FSA are not keen on this sort of thing.

"May contain" labelling should only be used, as I understand it, when there is considered real risk to the consumer - and if there's risk to the consumer of finding crustaceans in their still mineral water or celery in their banana, as their Allergen Guide bafflingly suggests, then Pret are in far more of a mess than I'd imagined.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

2014: a year in coeliac, intolerance and allergy

We’ll gloss over my failed prediction from last year’s round-up that low-FODMAP ready meals would be in our supermarkets by the end of 2014 (by end of 2015, definitely ... ) and instead kick-off where I left off - with scientists doing remarkable work.

We heard this year that drugs to help coeliac patients may be only a few years away, and that oral immunotherapy offers a real, promising road forward for peanut allergies. The potential to manipulate gut bacteria to better manage, prevent or even cure allergies and autoimmune continued to be an active area. Then there was the concept of gluten-free 'pre-digested wheat flour', which uses enzyme technology and which we may be hearing much more of in 2015, not to mention the interesting, albeit controversial, goings-on in so-called 'gluten-friendly wheat' too - where using a microwave process wheat is modified and the gluten reduced and its nature altered, so much so that is appears to be no longer 'recognised' by the immune system of coeliacs.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

2015 M&S FreeFrom Launches

Having been so distracted by the whole M&S-branded Kinnerton chocolate saga – if you’ve missed it, catch up with Part 1 here and with Part 2 here – I’ve neglected to tell you about the many good-looking new launches which M&S told me that they had planned for the new year within their Made Without ranges.

So here they are. This is all the info I have, and from what I gathered these are expected to hit shelves around March / April time - although dates can sometimes be changeable when it comes to launches.

Friday, 19 December 2014

FreeFrom Companies: Beware - and play fair

A story that may have passed under the radar of many of us in the UK last month was that of multinational giant Unilever - owner of Hellman’s - issuing legal proceedings against a small US company of egg-free ‘mayo’ on the basis that it was misleading to customers - who they claimed expect any product to be called 'mayo' to have egg in it. 

One month on, and following a wave of support for the small free-from supplier, Unliver has just announced that it is dropping the case. 

It's not the only such story. Closer to home, Oatly is being sued by the Swedish Dairy Association for making milk seem 'unmodern'. As Natural Products Magazine reported recently, one of Oatly's catchphrases 'No milk. No soy. No. Badness' has 'irked' the Swedish dairy industry. 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

In the FIC of it

A trip into town to see what was happening #14allergens-wise on the EU FIC front ...

Nothing on display in BHS's restaurant - whatsoever. So I enquired with a lady serving chips, and she referred me to a gentleman I took to be head of kitchen.

"Do you have allergen information about the meals you're serving?" I asked.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Nut another one … two

Further developments regarding the M&S / Kinnerton nut-warning confusion which I blogged about last week.

To recap, M&S Made Without Dairy chocolate - made by Kinnerton - carries a “not suitable for nut allergy sufferers due to manufacturing methods” warning.

A further response from a senior source at M&S has confirmed that the chocolate IS manufactured in the nut-free zone at Kinnerton (they have a non-nut-free zone too). So why the warning?

Friday, 12 December 2014

Nut another one …

Marks & Spencer’s ‘Made Without Dairy’ chocolate is manufactured by Kinnerton’s, who operate a nut-free factory. And yet the M&S labelling for the products carry a nut warning. 

The warning is “Not suitable for nut allergy sufferers due to manufacturing methods”. 

Why is this? I tried to find out. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Hiccups and FIC-ups

With days to go, it’s all about EU FIC Regulation No. 1169/2011 at the moment, with coverage on the BBC, the big charities (Coeliac UK and Anaphylaxis Campaign) spreading the word, plenty of print journalism in the trade press, bloggers and advocates sharing on social media. 

Although there are major changes with respect to eating out and non pre-packed foods (in an over-simplified nutshell: any of the 14 allergens present in a loose food / prepared meal need to be somehow declared or provided on request), I want to focus on labelling on pre packed food - which I covered over a year ago here